Tuesday, 25 May 2010

an unnecessary comma?

Reading about the Duchess of York today in The Age newspaper, I had to pause to think about the meaning of one sentence:
The man who inveigled the duchess into a long, boozy dinner, the sight of $US40,000 ($A48,000) in fresh notes beside an ashtray, and a bottle of wine afterwards is Mahzer Mahmood, whose elaborate stings have trapped celebrities, royals and crooks.
It's a sentence that sets the scene clearly, and I could imagine the duchess sitting there looking longingly at the money, but I had trouble with comprehending its meaning. At first I thought perhaps a comma, following the word afterwards, would make it clearer.

But then I remembered the rule that we should not use a comma between the subject and the verb. At its simplest, the above sentence is The man is Mahzer Mahmood. So we wouldn't want a comma before is.

So I guess it's just one of those long sentences that are correct but take a moment or two to process. If I'd written it, I would have put that comma in but I think I would have been wrong.


Papillon Bleu said...

I personaly have a problem with the comma between "long" and "dinner". I am not sure it is necessary.Reckon?

parlance said...

Papillon Bleu, I wouldn't have used a comma there, either - I agree with you. But when I looked at the site I mentioned in my post, it said:
Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives that modify a noun individually.

Ex. A: Finding an honest, intelligent leader has been impossible.

Explanation: Both honest and intelligent describe candidate individually. If the comma were omitted, the sentence would mean that finding an intelligent candidate who is honest is difficult. The implication is that intelligent candidates are not always honest.

Ex. B: Senator Belleview tried her best to produce well-written, pertinent legislation.

Ex. C: A unified, educated military is necessary for our country's security.

If we go along with this explanation, then it did need the comma between the two words if it was a dinner that was long and also boozy.

But if it was a long dinner that was boozy, then I think it should have had no comma.

Oh, I've even confused myself, so I hope I haven't confused you!

My personal rule is to use the least number of commas possible.

Lynn said...

It's quite a convoluted sentence, with and without commas, and obviously a sentence of another kind for the person concerned! It was crying out to be rewritten and I was interested to see that the newspaper hadn't tidied it up. Obviously a syndicated article, so maybe legal reasons? Also interesting to see word like 'inveigled' used in a news report. Hadn't seen that before.

parlance said...

Lynn, I almost said in my post that inveigled is one of my all-time favorite words.

If only some newspaper would invite me to write for them regularly, I would use it for them every week!

By the way, I completely agree that the sentence was begging the writer to rephrase it.

Papillon Bleu said...

I thought only French writers loved long and never ending sentences...I was wrong.

parlance said...

Papillon Bleu, I love long sentences!